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Continued: Battle fatigue, quiet talks ended Minnesota Orchestra lockout

  • Article by: GRAYDON ROYCE , Star Tribune
  • Last update: January 18, 2014 - 10:47 PM

Meanwhile, management got about 15 of the 200-plus work-rule changes it sought, and accepted that the contract would in its first year achieve only $3.5 million of a hoped-for $5 million in savings.

Dick Cisek, a former orchestra president, said last week he felt the deal “was a reasonable compromise.”

Divisive early talks

From the start, negotiators were at cross purposes. Campbell and Davis, both bankers, presented what they felt was an airtight case to slash $5 million in annual expenses. Musicians could help decide where the money would come from, but the number was etched in stone. This did not feel like bargaining to the union.

The relationships — including those between lawyers Bruce Simon for the musicians and Paul Zech for the board — became toxic and both sides grew frustrated with the other’s perceived intransigence. Davis and Campbell were new to labor negotiations. Simon offended the board negotiators with a style that one called “loud and profane.” The musicians made no economic counterproposal and the lockout was declared on Oct. 1, 2012.

The musicians began to wage a public-relations campaign aimed at winning community support and forcing the board to relent. That, however, would take time.

The union also held out hope that a financial angel or two would descend with extraordinary gifts to cover the costs of a new contract.

The public-relations strategy energized groups such as Save Our Symphony Minnesota and Orchestrate Excellence. Concerts put on by the musicians routinely sold out. But many in the general public felt musicians were well-paid.

The closest any angel came to solving the crisis was when Marilyn Carlson Nelson spearheaded an effort to raise money for $20,000 signing bonuses in a September proposal that musicians rejected.

Back-channel efforts

Throughout the lockout, the back channel was busy in different forms — small groups, one-on-one conversations, face-to-face meetings, conference calls. Nothing worked. Finally, last summer, the sides agreed to see whether former Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell — whom Kelley knew from his days as Sen. David Durenberger’s chief of staff — would mediate talks.

Mitchell’s efforts were hampered by an intractable fact: musicians said they wouldn’t negotiate unless the lockout was lifted. The board said no way. Mitchell’s proposal to open a four-month window in which the lockout was lifted was accepted by the musicians but rejected by the board. Relations deteriorated again.

On the night of the Symphony Ball, for example, Kelley told a reporter that he and Zech were flying to New York the next morning to meet with Zavadil and Simon in Mitchell’s office. When they arrived, Kelley said they were told there would be no talks under the lockout. “They couldn’t have told us that over the phone?” Kelley asked recently.

Even when the crisis reached its fever pitch in late September — after Gov. Mark Dayton pushed both sides to get something done and Vänskä’s future was at stake — there was an odd lack of urgency. The board made an offer on a Thursday, through the media. Musicians unanimously rejected the proposal Saturday morning, but waited until Monday afternoon to make a counteroffer. The board rejected it and declined further talks. Vänskä quit the next morning, and observers around the country scratched their heads over what was going on in Minnesota.

The road back

The future also includes challenges of bringing back audiences, finding an artistic leader and rebuilding fund­raising. Partisans of the musicians commented online last week that they are not ready to give money to the organization. Campbell and Davis are leaving the board, but a new chair has not been named.

Blois Olson, the musicians’ spokesman, said the players will continue to operate the separate nonprofit that was formed during the dispute, with a mission to perform “community education and outreach for classical music.”

Henderson, the attorney who wrote several op-ed pieces about the dispute, said public awareness will be heightened.

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